For years I was fighting with a very persistent thought pattern of mine. The thought goes: I do not have enough time. I do not have enough time to do the things I want to do. Maybe you know this one? Mine continues: When should I incorporate all the other yogic practices in my busy life with my 100 or more per cent job, writing, two kids, two pets etc.? But is this really true?
Let me share two magic tricks I finally learned after 20 years. Two tricks on how to overcome thought patters, that are not helping you to get anywhere, and how to find time to practice what is important for you.
Trick 1) Use a mantra. I know mantras sound like cheesy sanskrit. I think of mantras as affirmations. It is pretty easy. You can tell your brain whatever you want to think. I tell my brain: “I have all the time in the world to meditate” I repeat that sentence throughout the day, when I wake up, when I brush my teeth, when I ride my bike, etc. I do not only loose the anxious feeling of not having enough time. I also meditate (with a mantra) while telling me this mantra, while I am doing other things. And turning the wish (Oh I really wish I would have the time to meditate, but…) into a statement: I meditate punctum. “I meditate” turns meditation from something distant into something that is already part of my life. And guess what, somehow I found the magic five minutes to sit down and meditate.
Trick 2) Think about all the other good or bad habits you are already applying through your day. You wake up, you brush your teeth, you eat, you scroll through the news on your phone, …..
Attaching a new habit to an old habit that already works, makes it more likely to stick. So whenever I wake up. And so far I woke up every single day of my life, I sit up in my bed and meditate. Maybe only for two minutes. But that quiet space shifts how I perceive what’s going on around me for the rest of my day. Of course the kids are still fighting over the cereals in the morning, I still have emails coming in, I still have to hurry on my bike etc. Yet starting my day with being quiet and focusing on my breath, allows me to focus on what really matters and not letting me get distracted by all the noises around me.
Changing habits slowly with little baby steps makes them last longer. I don’t tell myself I have to sit down and meditate for an hour every morning and every evening and go to meditation retreats four times a year. I started with meditating a couple of minutes in the morning and reminding myself using a mantra through the day. What is the habit you want to integrate in your life?
Currently I am on summer vacation. I am a dedicated yogi, so I try to keep up my six times a week Ashtanga practice. But I allow myself to sleep in. I start my practice whenever I wake up. So far so good.
Today when I was done with the standing poses my son walked in. He starts to talk about the weather.
He also asks me when I will be finished. He asks that every day, even though he has seen me practicing a zillion times, and should know the sequence by heart, too. I pause to talk about the weather. It is indeed raining cats and dogs outside. My son lays down on the couch next to my mat and I continue my practice. While I hang inBhujapidasana my daughter walks in. She makes me laugh. It is mid-August and she is wearing her wooliest sweater and her thickest socks. She gets down on my mat to give me a kiss. I smile and continue my practice. In Setu Bhandasana my dog walks in to sit right behind my head. She wants to go outside and tells me so by sitting there. No space for chakrasana. I pause to ask my son to take her out. I continue my practice. I mix up the three final seats. My daughter demands breakfast.
This is how my practice looks like on most days. My family shows up on and around the mat eventually. Sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly.
Of course I could find ways to practice without interruptions: Set the alarm to 5 am, lock the door, go a long way to a studio. But I love my home practice - and I love my kids and my dog.
Sometimes in the Ashtanga Yoga world family is called the seventh and last one of the series. I agree. Family is the most challenging and advanced of the series. Practicing first or second series daily is already a commitment. Practising seventh series on top I often feel exhausted. But I don’t want to change a thing. That is my life that I love and I face it by practicing contentment and equanimity simultaneously.
I have never practiced with late K Patthabi Jois. But there is one of his teachings I continue to come back to on and off my yoga mat: “Pose, Breath, Drishti” (drishti = focused gaze).
His three short guidelines, also called Tristhana, which he used to teach in aphorisms, make absolute sense for the physical yoga practice:
You concentrate on a pose to make sure your body stays healthy and safe. You concentrate on a pose to challenge yourself and get deeper into it. To breathe steadily and deeply helps you to stay in the pose, to calm down your monkey mind and to supply your muscles with oxygen.Drishti supports the alignment of the body. Focusing on a certain spot, like the tip of your nose or your big toe, prevents your gaze from wandering off: checking on the others in the room, picking on the fluff between your toes, or looking at your phone.
Over time I came to understand that “Pose, Breath, Drishti” makes a lot of sense in life off the mat, too:
Concentrating on a pose, aka life situation means to not over- or underdo it, to make modifications according to your personal needs, and to make sure nobody else gets hurts. Breathing helps us to stay in the present moment and do the best we can whatever we are up to right now. Drishti is a means for developing concentrated intention. Lifting your intentions by focusing on a personal drishti or goal adds sense to your life.
When I lose my own focus I tend to look at other people’s careers, or poses, and I try to imitate them. Usually when I do that, I get “hurt” in a figurative sense. I get into poses that are not specific to, and healthy for, me. Breathing, staying in the present moment, helps me to be content. Breathing off the mat makes me appreciate my home, food, the weather, my friends, my loved ones, my work etc. When I forget to breathe I tend to think and to worry about my future at all times.
While on the yoga mat I may focus on my navel, off the mat I focus on why I am doing what I am doing and who I want to be in life. Drishtis help me to focus where I really want to go, and to align my actions with my life values.